Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages and Renaissance: An Exhibition Held at the Baltimore Museum of Art, January 27-March 13

By Walters Art Gallery | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

IT WAS NOT realized how great were the accumulations of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in this country until 1935, when the late Seymour De Ricci and his colleague, W. J. Wilson, published the first of the two massive volumes of the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada--soon supplemented by an Index volume. The usefulness of this great achievement, even with the limitations and imperfections which are inevitable in such an undertaking, is too well known to scholars in the field to require comment. The 15,000 or so items listed by this work in the collections of nearly 500 American libraries demonstrate the unsuspected proportions of the migration of manuscript material to this country, almost entirely the result of the activities of American private collectors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

For those concerned with the illuminated book--the historians of art--only a relatively small proportion of this vast accumulation of texts is pertinent. The necessary limitations of the Census prevented any more specific guide to the artistic interest of the books than a mere mention of the number of miniatures. Therefore, even with the Census as an aid, the general scope of our national resources in fine illuminated manuscripts is not too well known, except to a very small handful of the most adventurous scholars.

The outstanding exception to this generalization is, of course, the Pierpont Morgan Library, whose preeminence among all American collections in this field will probably always remain unchallenged. Its resources are well known to specialists and are available for research under conditions more nearly ideal than in any library in the world. The general public of New York has also had ample opportunity to enjoy these illuminated manuscripts through the distinguished series of exhibitions of the last fifteen years, commencing with the unforgettable display of the chief Morgan treasures at the New York Public Library in 1933-34. For the casual visitor, the New York Public Library itself regularly keeps a selection of its own distinguished Spencer Collection on exhibit. But in most regions outside New York the opportunities for the general public to see fine examples of medieval illumination are very few indeed.

Until recently, no serious efforts were made to represent medieval illumination in American art museums, so that it might appear in its rightful and important position in relation to the history of art. Henry Walters was a pioneer when he developed a collection of nearly 800 illuminated manuscripts as an integral part of the art gallery that he bequeathed to the City of Baltimore. The Cleveland Museum of Art during the past twenty years has been forming a collection, largely of single miniatures, selected with admirable discrimination as a complement to its painting collection. Most recently the National Gallery of Art, through Lessing J. Rosenwald's generosity, has commenced to build up a group of miniatures with a similar intention. Toledo Museum for long has paid tribute to the arts of calligraphy and book-making with 4 collection of single leaves. Lately certain other art museums, such as those of Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, for example, have been enabled to add a few specimens of illumination or, occasionally, actual illuminated volumes to their exhibitions. But in general, the American public is unaware of this important and particularly delightful aspect of our artistic heritage, hidden carefully as it is in the treasure rooms of research libraries or in private collections.

It was primarily with a view to widening the public experience in this field that the present exhibition was undertaken. In the course of organizing the event however, it soon became clear that the display

-vii-

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Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages and Renaissance: An Exhibition Held at the Baltimore Museum of Art, January 27-March 13
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Addenda and Corrigenda to the Catalogue ii
  • Title Page iii
  • List of Lenders v
  • Foreword vii
  • Note to the General Visitor xi
  • Catalogue 1
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